When I started playing Road 96, I found the premise absurd, themes well meaning but poorly delivered and the cast of characters while colorful, not particularly noteworthy. Having finished the game, my initial impression did not change but I got additional appreciation of its strength despite the shortcomings. So instead of dunking on its heavy handed political themes I wanna instead highlight why you might wanna pick this up.
The minimalist yet colorful art-style the game uses has become somewhat common in narrative driven indie games but for some reason I never get tired of them. The rich blues and yellows used to paint different locations perfectly capture the vibe of a fleeting moment of dreamlike beauty in a road trip. While some of the locations gets a bit samey, the visual splendor of the it all saves it from fatigue. Complementing that is some striking character design which is appropriately flashy and subdued depending on the character. The random unimportant NPCs suffers from same face syndrome but I can't tell if that was an intentional creative choice. Also while facial animations are not the best, the overall scene setups and designs pulls their weight in delivering the proper emotions.
The soundtrack deserves special mention cause how perfect it is in creating the right vibes for each locations. Mostly consisting of synthwave and pop-folk, they are used to enhance or outright carry scenes. You get the soundtrack cassettes as collectibles and I wish there were more opportunities to listen to them at our own pace. It might be just my own personal tastes but I love pretty much every track and have even kept the playlist saved to listen in the future!
Usually narrative adventure games are mockingly called walking sims (something I don't agree with) cause how little active gameplay challenge they have so something that really surprised me here was the variety in gameplay activities you engage in. Off the top off my head there's 3 types of minigames that are cleverly used at various locations and in addition shooting and driving sections. These pace the experience very well and pick up the slack where the writing might fall short. I was initially under the impression that the locations and story events would be randomly generated but that's not quite the case here. Every character a set number of events that you see them in order but the order in which you see which character's story is randomized. The most fascinating part is that you don't play 1 set character but multiple characters that interact with the handful of story characters at different points in the story and player characters can even fail! Your actions at least appears to have an effect on the characters so you have to judge whether you want to do what's right and what's beneficial. I really like the narrative implication of this design in saying that change can only be brought about by the collective small actions of many people.
Overall Road 96 is an impressive attempt at this genre that despite stumbling at the narrative and themes, makes up with sheer charm and sincerity. I'm curious what this studio will create next.
«Sit back and relax»